What is the meaning of the word "me" in The Descent of Inanna

  • In The Descent of Inanna, the word "me" is used as a noun in several places:

    With the me in her possession, she prepared herself:


    She who receives the me of the underworld does not return.

    What does the word "me" mean in this context?

  • The concept of mes refers to set of ordinances or decrees as defined by the gods:

    In Sumerian mythology, a me (Sumerian, conventionally pronounced [mɛ]) or ñe [ŋɛ] or parşu (Akkadian, [parsˤu]) is one of the decrees of the gods foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods.


    Kramer and Maier explain the concept of mes, but also the relationship of Inanna with them :

    Another important concept in Sumerian theology, was that of me. The me were universal decrees of divine authority. They are the invocations that spread arts, crafts, and civilization. The me were assembled by Enlil in Ekur and given to Enki to guard and impart to the world, beginning with Eridu, his center of worship. From there, he guards the me and imparts them on the people. He directs the me towards Ur and Meluhha and Dilmun, organizing the world with his decrees. Later, Inanna comes to Enki and complains at having been given too little power from his decrees. In a different text, she gets Enki drunk and he grants her more powers, arts, crafts, and attributes - a total of ninety-four me. Inanna parts company with Enki to deliver the me to her cult center at Erech. Enki recovers his wits and tries to recover the me from her, but she arrives safely in Erech with them.

    (Kramer & Maier 1989: pp. 38-68)
    Sumerian FAQ

    There are over 100 mes (around 80 are known to us and are listed here), some of which are:

    1. Godship
    2. The exalted shrine
    3. The flood
    4. Sexual intercourse
    5. Prostitution
    6. Art

    and are some times represented as physical objects:

    In Uruk, by the big apple tree, Dumuzi, the husband of Inanna, was dressed in his shining me garments.

    Descent of Inanna

    Let me note, that a possible interpretation of the myth is the transfer of hegemony from Eridu to Uruk in Sumerian History:

    Eridu was long considered the earliest city in southern Mesopotamia, and is still today argued to be the oldest city in the world.

    Leick, Gwendolyn (2002), "Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City"

    In addition to being one of the first cities, Uruk was the main force of urbanization during the Uruk period (4000–3200 BC). This period of 800 years saw a shift from small, agricultural villages to a larger urban center with a full-time bureaucracy, military, and stratified society.


    I think it's worth mentioning that the me were sometimes represented as physical objects. In The Descent of Inanna it's mentioned that she "gathered together the seven me". These seven me are then listed as the garments she wore before she set out for the underworld.

    I have edited my answer and added some information to address your comment. Thanks for the comment.

    A note on the number of known *me*: The wikipedia article seems to be based mostly on Kramers 1963 book. The 1983 translation, from him and Wolkstein, lists an even 80. I don't know the whole story there, but I can only hope the intervening 20 years of study revealed the meaning of another 20. (This doesn't really make much of a difference to your answer, but it is interesting. This seems to be the same translation...almost.

    Hmm thanks for the comment, I didn't notice that.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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